When God's Will Isn't Clear

Most of the decisions you will make today aren’t explicitly addressed in the Bible. Questions like, should I eat out today? What should I wear? Should I respond to this instance of my child’s sin with correction or forbearance? Should I shop today or tomorrow? Should I check my email again?

The Bible doesn’t even give specific guidance on huge, life-shaping decisions like should I marry this person? Should I give more or save for retirement? Should we adopt a child? Should I pursue a different vocation? Should we homeschool? Should I pursue chemo or try an alternative cancer treatment? Should we buy this home or a less expensive one? Which college should I attend? Is it time to put my elderly parent in a nursing home? Should I go to the mission field? Should I separate from my spouse while we work on these very painful issues?

These kinds of decisions tend to have multiple acceptable options within the scope of God’s revealed moral will, his commandments. Yet he cares deeply about the details and course of our lives. So what guidance does he give to help us navigate ambiguous decisions? He says,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

What does this mean? It means that God has a design in the difficulty of discerning. The motives and affections of our hearts, or “renewed minds,” are more clearly revealed in such decision making.

If God made more things explicit, we would tend to focus more on what we do rather than what we love. Like Pharisees, we would tend to whitewash our tombs with the appearance of obedience — to impress others — rather than deal with the dead bones of our self-righteous pride.

But in decisions that require discernment, the wheat is distinguished from the tares. We make such decisions based on what we really love. If deep down we love the world, this will become apparent in the pattern of decisions that we make — we will conform to this world.

But if we really love Jesus we will increasingly love what he loves — we will be transformed by renewed minds. And our love for him and his kingdom will be revealed in the pattern of small and large decisions that we make.

I say “pattern of decisions” because all of us sin and make mistakes. But conformity to the world or to Jesus is most clearly seen in the pattern of decisions we make over time.

That’s why God makes us wrestle. He wants us to mature and have our “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

The wonderful thing to remember in all of our decisions is that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He laid down his life for us so that all of our sins (including every sinful or defective decision) are covered. He will never leave or forsake us. He has a staff long enough to pull us out of every hole and a rod to guide us back when we stray.

And someday we will see that it really was him leading us through the confusing terrain of difficult decisions.